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Book sheds new light
on the Wild West
February 8, 1999

Chris Madsen, Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas were the kind of shoot-'em-up, white-hat sheriffs that kept America clean, in the days of the Wild Wild West. Together with U.S. Marshal E.D. Nix, they kept settlers happy and, for the most part, alive.

At least that's the story children and even scholars generally see and hear when they read about "cowboys and Indians" in the early 1900s. Now, however, a retired instructor who previously taught aerospace studies at UConn has unearthed information that sheds new light on history and in this version, Madsen, Tilghman, Thomas and Nix wear black hats.

"It's incredible the amount of distortion one finds in books about those days," says Nancy B. Samuelson, author of a new book, Shoot From The Lip.

Samuelson, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, who also wrote a book titled The Dalton Gang Story, noticed discrepancies in the stories of other marshals and lawmen in Oklahoma when she went through newspapers, death records and obituaries during her research on the notorious 19th-century gang.

"Chris Madsen was the person I was first interested in, because his stories really didn't make sense. First I planned to write a book on him, but the three lawmen were associated together.

They were involved with the U.S. Marshal too, so I ended up with the four of them," says Samuelson.

She discovered that the four were involved with house prostitution, stealing the government's money and stealing horses from Native Americans. "All of them were criminals, except Heck Thomas. He wasn't that bad." says Samuelson.

Many people read history books and assume every word is true, says Samuelson, but she cautions that readers should not just take a writer at his or her word. "Go check the facts yourself if you want to be sure of the truth," she says.

Samuelson's main sources of information were records on file at the University of Oklahoma, but even those records weren't very good, she says. It took her six years to figure out the facts and write the book. "I don't mind, I'm retired and I have enough time,"she says.

Retired, but still full of ideas.

"The next projects are going to be books of source-materials for researchers," says Samuelson. "All history is open for more documentation, and there is always something else that somebody else may find.

"The final word is never in."

Kirsten van der Kallen